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How Domain Industry People Are Helping Break the Cycle of Poverty and Bringing Hope Where It's Needed Most

By Ron Jackson

When I stumbled upon the domain business 22 years ago, as I writer, I loved finding an industry where powerful words are the primary product. That would have been enough for me, but an even more pleasant surprise came as I got to know other people who had entered the business. Since it was an enterprise based on the still nascent Internet, I assumed it would attract, for the most part, nerdy people with a single minded focus on cutting edge technology. Instead I found it populated with extraordinarily creative people who cared about and paid close attention to everything happening in the world around them. In hindsight, that is what made many of them so successful -  the more you know about a wide variety of things, the easier it is to recognize valuable words in multiple fields.

It has also been uplifting to see so many people in this business devote much of their time and money to helping others. The need is great so they tend to ignore the odds and aim high. That makes it especially gratifying to see one of their own dreams being realized. At the beginning of this year, that happened  for industry veteran Shaun Wilkinson, whose vision of opening a sorely needed high school for children in Mombasa, Kenya became a reality. 

Shaun recently began his second tour of duty with Sedo, the company where he first entered the domain industry in 2007. He started as a domain transfer specialist and returned last month as Partner Success Manager. In between he spent six years at Nidoma.com as the Director of English Speaking Markets, then COO. Stints as the Premium Domains Manager for .CLOUD and Business Development Manager for Bodis.com followed before he returned to his original home at Sedo.

Shaun's mission to expand educational opportunities for poor children in Kenya began at the Hope Children's Centre that was founded in Mombasa in 2010. After hearing about it, Shaun volunteered to go there and help in any way he could.

Shaun Wilkinson
Founder, Hope High School
Mombasa, Kenya


Hope High School 
opened in Kenya in January 2024.

Shaun Wilkinson with eager to learn students in Mombasa, Kenya.

Emily Oroni
Founder, Hope Children's Centre

Shaun recalled the start on his journey, noting, "The Hope Children's Centre was founded by Emily Oroni who, in 2010, had recently qualified to be a teacher. She lived (and still lives) in a part of Mombasa that is very poor, and there were many kids who were not going to school at all. Primary education in Kenya is “free” in the sense that there are no school fees for State schools, but the families are responsible for buying school materials, uniform etc. and many of the families in Likoni, where the school is located, cannot afford that so don’t send their kids to school. Emily wanted to found a school specifically for those kids who were getting no education due to their families’ situation."

"A couple of months after Emily rented a small building and started the school, I went to Kenya as a volunteer. I organized the trip via an agency that, in return for a fee, finds you a home stay and a place to work. A lady at the agency knew Emily personally and knew she had just started the school, so described the project to me and asked if I wanted to go and volunteer there. Thankfully I said yes, as it was exactly the kind of project I was looking for," Shaun said.

"As much as I loved my experience as a volunteer, the facilities at the time were non-existent. It was just literally a two-room shack with no tables, chairs, chalkboards or anything. If we wanted to make the school a long-term, sustainable project, we needed to build a new school building with proper facilities and more space so that we could take in a lot more kids. When the school started, it was an unofficial project, unrecognized by the Kenyan State, so we needed to get our facilities up to scratch to make the school official. I bought some land over there and construction began on the new school building. I took on the fundraising but Emily was responsible for overseeing the whole thing, especially with regard to finding and choosing construction companies etc. to carry out the work. That the building was finished in 2011 and gave the school official recognition from the government."

Kids at the Hope Children's Centre were given a new path to escape poverty.

While that was a major achievement - Shaun knew more needed to be done. After finishing primary school, the kids needed access to the next level of education, a secondary school (equivalent to high school in the U.S.) they could afford to attend. After several years of planning that project finally got underway thanks to a boost from the domain industry. "Construction of the high school started in 2018, shortly after we raised some money at Domaining Europe 2018 in Valencia, Spain," Shaun said, "That school took a lot longer to build and open, due to Covid, financial constraints (especially around raising enough money to hire and pay teachers). Still, we never gave up, because we saw what a difference to the community the Primary School made, so we were determined that those same kids (and others too hopefully) could also get Secondary Education and qualifications, so that they can find better jobs and escape the cycle of poverty.

That perseverance finally paid off in January of this year when the new Secondary School opened. In March, Shaun returned to Kenya for the first time in five years to see the finished project. "It was amazing to be back there and I am really happy with the progress that has been made under incredibly difficult circumstances!," Shaun said, grateful for those who stayed the course with him.

Shaun Wilkinson with staff members at at the newly opened Hope High School

The impact this will have on the community cannot be overstated. "Unlike primary education, secondary education in Kenya is not free (aside from a small percentage of students who perform exceptionally well and receive scholarships). If our kids are from families too poor to afford Primary School, they have no chance of paying for Secondary School,' Shaun noted. "Secondary education is not compulsory in Kenya, but if you want to have any prospect of a decent career, you have to have attended and completed it. Therefore, a cycle of poverty exists whereby if your family can’t afford to send you to Secondary School, you can’t get a good job, which keeps you in that same situation, and the cycle repeats itself. If the Kenyan State will not assist the poorest in society by making Secondary Education free for them, then the only other option is for schools like ours to open that cater to those less fortunate."  

The new Hope High School building opened in January 2024.

"We are able to give them all of Kenya's official curriculum with core subjects such as Maths, English, Swahili, Science etc. In addition, students receive a certain amount of time reserved for both physical education and creative subjects such as art. At the moment we cannot offer subjects beyond what is mandatory as we do not have the funds to hire the additional staff that would need," Shaun said.

Shaun also emphasized that getting the school built could not have happened without help from friends in the domain business who supported the effort. "Over the years, many people have made donations small and large, without which the Secondary School would never have been completed (or at least not yet). I would like to mention two people in particular – firstly, the late Dietmar Stefitz, whom I met in 2016 at Domaining Europe in The Hague, and who immediately took a personal interest in the project and allowed me to fundraise at more than one of his brilliant Domaining Europe events, including for example a live domain auction in Valencia in 2018, where Domainers donated the domains to be auctioned, and all proceeds from the auction went to the school. I will never forget Dietmar’s help."

Dietmar Stefitz

"The other person I would like to mention is NamesCon Advisory Board Chairman Soeren Von Varchmin, who is also on the Advisory Board of Groundbreaker, an organization based in Cologne that does fantastic work around the World promoting educational opportunities for disadvantaged children. After I talked to Soeren at length about our project, he connected me with the Groundbreaker team and they added us to their portfolio of supported projects, which was an absolute game changer. The majority of the funds to construct the actual High School building came from Groundbreaker, so I cannot thank Soeren and the Groundbreaker team enough. I also know that a lot of the funds raised through Groundbreaker came from the Domainer community, so to all who have contributed – Thank You!"

Soeren Von Varchmin

With the new high school opened with 30 students and Shaun hopes to quadruple that number to 120 over the next three years. What will be needed to make that happen? "As things stand, it is mostly a matter of spreading the news that the school is now there and places are available," Shaun said. "We expect organic growth due to word-of-mouth alone will be enough to reach our goal of 120 students by 2027. We intend to build at least one more classroom, plus auxiliary buildings such as a separate office for the teachers. The other thing that would be ideal is a school bus, as the building is quite far away for some of the kids and I want to make it more accessible for more families."

A chemistry class at Hope High School in Mombasa, Kenya.

Shaun closed by noting, "Where we need help at the moment is for the ongoing costs, rather than for one-off costs such as construction. We especially need to hire new staff, such a one (maybe two) more teachers, and a night watchman. Anyone who is interested in donating can get in touch with me, I know it’s a cliché but every donation helps, no matter how small! "




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